In our most recent session of the Bones of a Dead God campaign, for which I still need to write a session review, the party fought a swordscale dragon, which was just a reskinned Young Iron Dragon. The dragon was the mayor of a village of Dragonborn that live on the Cage Cliffs, the jagged edges where the ribs have cracked and formed into fertile land.
I have a history of putting quadrupeds in positions of authority in villages. In one of our many D&D Fight Nights, the player characters were searching in vain for the mayor they had been sent to assassinate. They had actually walked right past him a couple of times, as the mayor had polymorphed himself into a pig, and was on his way out of the castle with the rest of the livestock in the morning. They managed to find and kill him, but it was noted that even this was not the first time I had a non-humanoid creature in the role of mayor.
May I have the most distinct honor and pleasure to introduce to you, Mayor Bear:
In one of the very first Fight Nights, I set the characters to finding some random dingus in a village that had been taken over by goblins. They were having a hell of a time finding the thing, going for the obvious Red Herring in the village square fountain, and then thinking it was the glowing axe being used by a hobgoblin warrior. Neither of these things were actually the dingus; the dingus was locked safely in a box in one of the store rooms of the market-place.
Before they could get to the store room, however, they met Mayor Bear, who was a bear in a fez that wanted very much to hurt them. I don’t think I came up with any good reason for why Mayor Bear was the mayor of the village, but it was established that he was, in fact, the duly elected official in these here parts. That’s actually something of a common thread with my quadruped mayors; they’re all elected.
Now, you could take this to be some comment on democracy if you wanted to. I mean, when taken from that point of view, it’s an interesting metaphor; Mayor Bear would symbolize qualities in the politicians I was meaning to satirize, be it is his overt aggression or his attempts to seem like everyone else while so obviously apart from them (the fez). But really, it was just something I came up with on the fly that I thought was kind of funny.
The same was true of Mayor Pig. He could have been a symbol for the cowardly politicians he was meant to represent, showing their gluttony and ineptness. But mostly he was polymorphed into a pig because I thought it was a clever way out of the castle.
And finally, the Swordscale Dragon could symbolize the unbridled power given to politicians when we elect them, the ridiculous sway they hold over a group of people. But mostly he was the mayor because he was the session end-boss, and I wanted him to have a reason to be in a village full of dragonborn.
What this has led me to is this: before we can begin any true discussion about the symbols and meanings behind a piece of art, we must first consider what might be blatantly obvious to the creator. It may just be that whatever symbol we’re analyzing is something the creator found interesting, or entertaining, or is just a whimsy. Something to consider.